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By Walter Hazen

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How did Jim Crow laws govern the lives of blacks? Give several examples. The literacy test in Alabama at one time asked voters such questions as: The Constitution limits the size of the District of Columbia to what? Who presides at the impeachment of a president? Which government groups would have to approve the merger of two states to form one state? And so on. Could you have answered such questions? It seems certain that most white voters, then or now, could not. Sometimes literary tests bordered on the ridiculous.

Emancipation caught most slaves ill-prepared for freedom. The following excerpt from Lay My When freedom came, my mama said Old Master called all of ’em to his house, and he said,‘You all free, we ain’t got nothing to do with you no more. They didn’t have no place to go and nothing to eat. From what she said, they had a terrible time. She said it was bad times. Some took sick and had no ’tention and died. Seemed like it was four or five years before they go to places they could live. They all got scattered .

Farms and buildings had been destroyed; nothing remained of some towns but gutted factories and chimneys where houses had once stood. Banks had closed and Confederate money was worthless. Railroads were inoperative and telegraph lines were down. Like their black counterparts, many whites were reduced to begging. Even ex-Confederate generals went about seeking any job that would provide food for their families. This organization, under the direction of the occupying federal forces, provided food, clothing, and other necessities to thousands of blacks.

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American Black History by Walter Hazen


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